A legal secretary plays a crucial role in the everyday workings of a law office. These are the people who take on the seemingly unimportant day-to-day clerical tasks that are in fact the keys to any law office's success. Legal secretaries are also sometimes referred to as legal assistants, executive assistants or administrative assistants. It is not uncommon for the most experienced and high performing legal secretaries to go on to be promoted to paralegal positions within a law firm.
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The role of the legal secretary is to support the lawyers and paralegals in a law office or organization. As legal secretaries tend to posses a specialized skill set across various computer programs, the tasks for which they are responsible can range from more traditional secretarial jobs such as answering phones and taking messages to creating detailed spreadsheets or preparing law documents.
Legal secretaries carry out a wide range of administrative work within a law office or organization. Lawyers and paralegals do not always have the time or know-how to work with computer technologies; this is where legal secretaries are needed. The technologies they have mastered include computer programs involving word processing, creating spreadsheets, preparing all kinds of presentations, managing documents, managing hours and billing of employees within the office, keeping a detailed and organized calendar, transcribing documents or recorded conversations, desktop publishing, videoconferencing, and so on.
Legal secretaries must also interact with all kinds of people on a regular basis. The kinds of communication involved in a day's work involve face-to-face, phone and e-mail communication, and even video conferencing with clients, lawyers, paralegals, opposing counsel, city officials and more.
Legal secretaries are also responsible for a great deal of writing. They are often the people who prepare first drafts of correspondence or memos, and also often proofread legal documents including briefs and pleadings. They also deal with project management, keeping paper and electronic files in order, keeping track of many deadlines, setting up appointments, and maintaining a detailed calendar.
Successful legal secretaries have to be on the ball at all times, ready for an array of assignments and able to meet tight deadlines on a daily basis. In addition to being extremely organized, sharp, personable, and self-disciplined, legal secretaries need the technical know-how to effectively utilize all kinds of computer programs as described in the section above.
Legal secretaries must also be strong writers, as they are constantly writing up and proofreading first drafts of memos and legal documents. Writing skills also come into play when it comes to transcription of recorded interviews, conversations, voice dictation files, etc.
It is also crucial for legal secretaries to know the law inside and out. They need to be familiar with all kinds of legal documents and legal terminology, along with legal process and procedure. Legal secretaries also need to have impeccable research skills as they must often look up information relevant to cases for their superiors.
The level of education needed for this profession can vary, as it is possible to acquire the position without any formal training. However, the field is changing in that most legal secretaries being hired today have received official certification from the National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS).
There are legal secretarial programs available at many community colleges, technical institutes and private career schools. Such programs usually take one or two years to complete. They tend to culminate in a three-part, four-hour long exam, which leads to an Association for Legal Professionals designation upon passing.
Most legal secretaries work in law offices. However, they are also found in government agencies, corporate legal departments of companies and public interest firms. In all of these workplaces where the law is the order of the day, people are working quickly and efficiently around the clock. Legal secretaries can expect a fast-paced, high-stress work environment with firm deadlines and no time to waste. These people are up for that challenge, thriving in the environment and ready to excel in a challenging profession.
It is also not uncommon to work late or abnormal hours to make sure all paperwork is prepared and ready to go for a big case. The workload depends on what clients may need, so it is not uncommon for many employees in a law office to work late in order to accommodate a certain client or case.
Legal secretaries’ salaries vary depending on experience and location. On the low end, according to the Internet Legal Research Group, the salary may start at around $28,000 at a small firm. On the high end, legal secretaries can make up to $65,000 at a larger firm.